This article comes from Dave Hansen’s talk, ‘Dress for the occasion: Leveraging the right events for the right goals’, at our 2023 Las Vegas Customer Marketing Summit, check out the full discussion here

Developing meaningful relationships with customers requires thoughtful, tailored experiences. But with so many event formats and types, how do you determine the right approach?

Today we’ll explore seven relationship-building event types for marketers. You’ll learn the distinct purpose and best practices for each one - from intimate interviews to large user conferences.

Armed with these insights, you can intentionally “dress for the occasion” by matching events to desired outcomes and avoid wasting time and resources on misaligned activities.

So, let’s get right into examining how to leverage the right events for specific goals like insights, research, and customer acquisition.

  • Why are customer relationships more essential than ever?
  • One-on-one customer interviews
  • Client advisory boards
  • Customer roundtables
  • Customer focus groups
  • Customer meetups & events
  • Customer awards programs
  • Customer user conferences
  • Key takeaways

Why are customer relationships more essential than ever?

First, it’s worth emphasizing why customer trust and loyalty continue to gain importance. 

According to Salesforce research, 88% of people say trust expands in value during changing times. But only 52% of customers currently trust companies in general.

Salesforce recommends several strategies to build trust: transparent communication, responsible data practices, treating people as humans rather than transactions, cultivating relationships beyond the sale, and proactively resolving issues.

While many of us already implement these daily, it underscores why creating meaningful customer experiences is more vital than ever. Thoughtful relationship-building events play a pivotal role.

Let’s explore how to select the right activities for your goals and resources and the purpose, costs, format, and best practices for each one.

One-on-one customer interviews

One-on-one interviews involve in-depth, conversational discussions between two people – you and the interviewee. Avoid straightforward Q&As.

🎯 Purpose

One-on-one interviews enable personal connections and insights from individual customers. 

The flexible format provides opportunities to gather feedback on products, messaging, and concepts; understand needs, pain points, and goals; build rapport by listening; and clarify responses in real-time.

The intimate yet informal nature encourages customers to share honest opinions and experiences that surveys or focus groups may not uncover.

💡 Cost, format & best practices

The main cost is your time. But the qualitative insights justify the investment. Keep interviews to 30-60 minutes to respect customers' time. Let the dialogue flow naturally with some guiding questions. Ask open-ended questions to draw out stories.

Provide context upfront on goals and confidentiality. Take thorough notes and share for review. Follow up to show appreciation and address additional questions. Combine interviews with NPS surveys to maximize value.

At LRN, I spend most of my week in one-on-one customer interviews. They deliver invaluable insights compared to large forums.

For example, I regularly conduct informal “how are things going?” interviews to check in and nurture relationships.

🤝  Who to involve

The only participants are you and the interviewee. Occasionally include a colleague like someone from product marketing. But keep groups intimate.

Client advisory boards

Client advisory boards (CABs) are recurring councils of 12-15 clients who advise on offerings and industry needs. They provide structured guidance over time.

🎯 Purpose

Well-run CABs enable regular Voice of Customer insights from diverse clients; incorporate clients into product/program development; build lasting relationships through dialogue; and demonstrate customer-centricity from the top down.

💡 Cost, format & best practices

Costs range based on goals and activities. Virtual boards can meet regularly with minimal cost. More extensive in-person councils require greater resources. Dedicated staff time is essential for recruitment, planning, facilitation, and follow-ups.

To maximize value, define the purpose tied to business goals and limit to 2-3 objectives. Recruit engaged members representing customer segments. Meet regularly but limit sessions to 2 hours. Focus agendas on dialogue rather than presentations.

Circulate notes, share outcomes, and continue conversations between meetings. Annually revisit the purpose and reconstitute the CAB as needed. Within guidelines, give members special perks for their time and guidance.

🤝  Who to involve

Include a mix of customers, internal leaders related to the goals, and facilitators who handle planning, facilitation, notes, and follow-ups.

With the proper members and facilitation, CABs enable invaluable two-way communication with customers.

Customer roundtables

Roundtables convene 12-15 carefully selected people for informal but topic-focused discussions led by a facilitator. They reveal detailed insights from customers.

🎯 Purpose

Well-executed roundtables explore attitudes, opinions, and ideas about specific products, issues, and approaches. They uncover deeper insights through peer-to-peer conversations. 

Roundtables also share thought leadership and provide a forum for customers to interact.

💡 Cost, format & best practices

Roundtables require several hours of internal facilitator time plus any tools or incentives. Their informal nature makes them affordable. Limit sessions to 90 minutes to prevent fatigue. Carefully select interested participants and provide discussion guides in advance.

Set ground rules upfront encouraging candor and equal participation. Follow up with notes, actions, and relationship nurturing. The conversational format produces nuanced qualitative feedback.

For example, LRN recently held a roundtable on enhancing training with data. The lively dialogue generated actionable insights.